After seeing roots revivalist David Mayfield’s rollicking set in the Taylor room at the 2012 Winter NAMM show, one impression lingered above the others: This guy is fully committed to his craft. Though the set was shorter than a normal gig, and the audience atypical compared to a public show, Mayfield, a self-confessed ham since he was a kid, didn’t hold back, embellishing his well-honed Americana tunes with playful, Vaudeville-meets-Hee Haw humor and showmanship. By the end of the set, the entire room had become an extension of the stage, with Mayfield revealing a fondness for on-stage tumbling, a knack for flatpicking solos while lying on the floor surrounded by the crowd, and an eagerness to test the weight limits of our TaylorWare counter in the back of the room.
But what makes Mayfield’s stage antics ultimately work is the substance of the music behind it — strong, heartfelt songwriting and musicianship. A nimble flatpicker with a sweet, high-lonesome tenor, Mayfield is something of an Americana alchemist, adept at tapping the different strains of traditional roots music and stirring them into a rich melting pot. His songs are like heirloom recipes he has inherited and preserved, and yet made his own. From vintage rock & roll to lovelorn bluegrass ballads, his tunes have elicited waves of critical raves, and some of his biggest fans are acclaimed Americana peer-friends like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers.
Bluegrass is in Mayfield’s bones. His parents each played in bluegrass bands prior to meeting and eventually formed a band together. As a pre-teen growing up in Kent, Ohio, Mayfield got in on the family act, as did his younger sister Jessica Lea. The road became home after his folks sold their house and bought a 1956 Flex touring bus, which they lived in for three years as they traveled between festivals and performed together. The experience taught Mayfield the ropes both as a musician and entertainer. The family later settled in Nashville for a time before ultimately returning to Ohio, but Mayfield migrated back to Music Row to ply his craft. He scored a gig as a touring guitarist with country artist Andy Griggs, and also played bass with his singer-songwriter sister. It was through her that he met Scott and Seth Avett (the Avett Brothers), who became good friends and encouraged Mayfield’s own musical pursuits. Mayfield joined the acclaimed newgrass band Cadillac Sky in 2009 and contributed substantially to their 2010 album Letters in the Deep, produced by fellow Ohioan Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. When the band members amicably parted ways, Mayfield recorded an album as the David Mayfield Parade, with “parade” serving as an apt description for the fluid cast of musical contributors, including the Avetts and his sister, who have helped bring his music to life.
We caught up with Mayfield in early February, a few weeks after the NAMM Show. He had just finished recording his sophomore DMP record at a pair of historic studios in Nashville and was gearing up for the first leg of a tour that will cover about 200 dates in 2012. He talked about how his Taylors — a pair of DN3s and a DN8 prototype — fit into the recording sessions, reflected on what he learned as part of an itinerant family band, explained the benefits of working with a shifting ensemble of musicians, and offered his thoughts on the current mainstream embrace of Americana music.
You can read the interview from the Spring 2012 issue of Wood&Steel here. Watch performance clips of "Trapped Under the Ice" and "Human Cannonball" from the Taylor stage at NAMM.
Photo courtesy of Josh Joplin